New Romney op-ed hits Obama on Middle East: Is that fair?

Mitt Romney pivots off the 'jobs' issue and criticizes President Obama's Middle East policy – from Syria and Iran to Israel and Egypt. The tactic is perhaps meant to remind voters that the GOP traditionally has owned defense-and-security matters.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a rally at Valley Forge Military Academy and College, Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Wayne, Pa.

Mitt Romney is renewing his attack on President Obama’s policies in the Middle East Monday via an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal. The GOP presidential nominee writes that thousands of innocent people have died in Syrian violence, the Muslim Brotherhood has risen to power in Egypt, the US ambassador to Libya has died in a terrorist attack, and Iran’s mullahs continue to move toward nuclear weapons capability.

“These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere ‘bumps in the road.’ They are major issues that put our security at risk,” writes Mr. Romney.

The ex-Massachusetts governor goes on to complain that, under Mr. Obama, the United States is reacting to events instead of shaping them, and that the current administration has allowed the country’s world leadership to “atrophy.”

The US needs to ensure that there is “no daylight” between itself and Israel on the Iran question, says Romney. And it needs to restore its economy, military strength, and values.

“That will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing,” writes Romney.

What’s going on here? Wasn’t the Romney campaign supposed to focus on the economy and how Romney’s business credentials would help him restore US jobs?

Well, perhaps – but that’s not working at the moment, as polls show Romney slipping behind in key states. And the administrations has struggled to explain its actions in regards to the Sept. 11 attack that left US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead in Benghazi. The Obama team initially described the attack as spontaneous; only in recent days has it acknowledged that evidence points to a premeditated terrorist assassination. Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that security in Benghazi was lax as the US officials underestimated the threat to the US diplomatic outpost there.

“It’s part of a bigger picture of the fact that the Obama foreign policy is unraveling, literally, before our eyes,” said Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan on "Fox News Sunday."

Could highlighting foreign policy actually boost the GOP presidential ticket? After all, polls show that voters generally pick the incumbent over the challenger when asked who would better manage the nation’s foreign affairs.

But the GOP has traditionally owned the defense-and-strength issue, as Democrats traditionally have the edge on social concerns. It’s possible that Romney aides are betting on the resurgence of this attitude. And they’re clearly trying to use Obama’s foreign-policy stumbles to portray him as a weak and amateurish leader in general. They’ve hit that theme for months on domestic issues, to little evident effect in the polls.

Much of Monday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed is devoted to the US relationship with Israel. That could have the upside of appealing to Jewish voters discontented with Obama’s decision not to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

But it also leaves Romney open to the charge that as president he’d narrow US options by in essence outsourcing US policy on Iran to Israel.

“If Romney wins and the United States supinely follows [Mr. Netanyahu] into yet another, and this time vastly more dangerous, Gulf war, nobody can say we were not warned,” writes liberal Ed Kilgore Monday in the Political Animal blog of the Washington Monthly.

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